Today marks the 30th anniversary of the recording of the iconic 1980s supersong, “We Are the World,” written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson for the benefit of USA for Africa. Inspired by (or ripped off from) Bob Geldof’s Band Aid hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas” in the United Kingdom, Harry Belafonte thought that it might be a good idea to do something similar stateside. On January 28, 1985, it was recorded and went on to raise over $60 million to fight famine in Africa.
It’s a classic, but what makes it so special is the absolute and utter sincerity of everyone involved. Here are a few of the most genuine moments, with YouTube links.
Animated neon signatures: Proof that they were all there, as if their presence in the video was not official enough.
Lionel Richie kicks this thing off because he co-wrote it, but he wants you to know he really means what he’s about to sing, so he remains facially neutral.
Kenny Rogers can’t help being so musically giving and steps all over Paul Simon’s subtlety.
Billy Joel gets ready for Tina Turner’s heartfelt heat.
Michael Jackson wants to make sure that the poorest people with the unhealthiest eyes can hear him sing so he wears his trademark sparkles.
Willie Nelson duets with Dionne Warwick in a real show of musical unity. Plus the weed they shared with everyone else.
Bruce Springsteen conjuring up all the bridge-and-tunnel goodness of his heart for his solo.
Steve Perry barely has to put in any effort to look and sound like he wants to give his voice to the entire world. Daryl Hall tries to outdo him and very nearly succeeds.
Huey Lewis pours his soul out so excessively that it floods the studio and actually reaches Africa, but then Cyndi Lauper rescues the continent from drowning in goodness by electrocuting it with her good will. Then they band with Kim Carnes to evenly and safely distribute all their good intentions.
Lionel Richie can literally feel the assistance, you guys.
Diana Ross was so moved that she threw on a USA for Africa shirt, like a superhero costume. (Or someone yelled at her and said “PUT ON THIS SHIRT WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIANA.”) It totally works, and she and Stevie Wonder raise their hands in praise of Lord Quincy Jones.
Bob Dylan is so overcome with charity that he sings completely different notes than the ones that appear on the sheet music.
Kenny Loggins get totally ear-blasted with compassion that he has to remove his headphones.
Ray Charles is unconvinced of everyone else’s genuine kindness and implores them to sing even louder, at the risk of destroying all that is holy and sacred. Stevie and Bruce heed his call and provide a volcanically tender response.
Things are getting a little humanitarian up in here.
James Ingram found some spare change in his pocket in the form of a very emotional solo.
Lionel Richie approves.
And then Africa was saved! (No really, it raised over $60 million in the mid-1980s, so that was a pretty big deal.)